Sunday, August 23, 2009

Refining the labeling process

Back in May I had done some work developing a procedure to create my tracking labels. I've spent the time since August 14 doing two things: making dish scrubbers instead of baby booties, and thinking about how exactly I want to implement the whole tracking label thing.

The Big Decision I had to make was production date vs. batch number. I get all my materials from the same suppliers all the time, but the yarn is all different dye lots. I thought about what my life would be like if I had to jot down the dye lot of every bootie I made, and then it occurred to me that except for the larger wholesale orders where I sit down and consecutively make a large number of booties in the same colors, this was not going to work for me. So I opted for production date instead. And I decided that if any low-life shyster wants to bring a case against me, let him prove the yarn came from different dye lots. If I can't tell them apart, with my heightened color-matching abilities, I'd like to see him try.

The problem I've encountered with using production dates is that I often make soles far in advance, and for best results the labels need to be applied to the soles before the uppers are put on. (I suppose it doesn't matter for CPSIA purposes where I apply the labels, as long as they're visible. But it matters to me where they are, because the booties have a bit of stretch to them. I decided the inside of the sole was the least-stretched, most-accessible least-visible place on the booties.) But of the alternatives, the production date system was the easiest to work with. I can also add cohort numbers when booties are contractor-made if I so choose, but I haven't needed to choose yet. I decided to use month-long date ranges. So all booties made in August are labeled 8/2009. While I'm going to do my best to label the soles right before I put the uppers on, it's possible that a pair of soles might be labeled 2/2010 and finished and sold in, say, 5/2010. Too frickin' bad. If that's not good enough for them, I politely invite them to launch themselves projectile-wise into the nearest body of fresh water. And if they take me to court, I also invite them to prove in court when I put the uppers on. It's not like I have a factory where I keep records of this kind of thing or an employee who could testify against my claim, and there's no 24 hour surveillance footage of my "factory floor" (a.k.a. the corner of my living room).

The next problem I had to overcome was how to attach the booties without hand sewing, because hand sewing takes way too long. I considered machine sewing but it would be visible on the outside of the bootie, and I felt it would ruin the aesthetics. Not only that, but it would be impossible to sew labels to the soles of contractor-made booties, which are essential to my business model. My Twitter buds suggested glue, so I did a series of wash tests and discovered that the glue that works best for me is Aleene's Flexible Stretchable. Thankfully it's sold at our local Wal-Mart, and it's cheap. I've been cutting out the labels with pinking shears and applying the glue to the label with a paintbrush. It seems to be working pretty darn well that way. So if you create crocheted stuff, take note: you can stick your labels on.

I decreased the label size to 1 1/4". Previously it was 1 1/2", but that was too big to fit inside the soles of the smaller booties. So now I'm getting 48 to a sheet instead of 35. Pinking the edges also lets me get more out of the printable fabric. I pushed them right up to the margins to get the maximum number of labels out of the sheet. In the future I may shrink them further, to 1" or maybe even go to a rectangle shape instead of square, especially if I have to get them up inside Preemie size booties (one of my wholesale customers is a preemie shop).

A few kinks I'm still having that I'd like to work out:
  1. Printing with the laserjet means you have to go immediately from printing to ironing, because the slightest smudge across the newly-printed fabric ruins the labels. Even dragging the press cloth across it or moving the press cloth during pressing smears them, and the process ruins the press cloth because it transfers toner to it (which will then re-transfer to anything else you iron). At my house, I'm almost never able to go immediately from one thing to another, unless the "other" is breaking up kids fighting or cleaning up some acute spill or bodily fluid mess.
  2. I would like to be able to use inkjet. Inkjets use CMYK ink, which is exempt from CPSIA lead testing. (I had the laserjet toner tested by XRF and it passed.) But I have yet to do wash tests on inkjet to see how permanent the ink is.
  3. Painting glue onto pinked edges makes my hands sticky. I hate sticky hands.
  4. The gluing process adds several hours to the turnaround time for a pair of booties, since I have to wait for the glue to at least dry to the touch before putting on the uppers.
  5. I will have to decide whether or not to ask my contractors to glue labels on. I'm thinking not. I don't want to add glue and labels to the materials I have to send them already. Most of the time I forget to send them shoelaces. Sending them glue and labels too would double my headaches.
  6. Every time I glue on a label, I think about punching a bureaucrat in the face. I suppose that will fade in time, though, to a complaisant background noise.
All in all, I think I've come up with a decent solution, though I wouldn't mind abandoning it altogether for a better solution.